Rhee Resignation

October 13, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Robert Enlow, Greg, Virginia Walden Ford,  Lance Izumi, Lisa Snell and I weigh in on the Rhee resignation in School Reform News.


The Cool Kids put on a brave face in the New York Times.

Rotherham wisely notes that if Gray is going to kill reform, he will do it later in a series of pillow-smotherings rather than in some obvious fashion.

WaPo columnist McCartney on the Rhee aftermath.

Finally, the WaPo produced this sobering “Man on the Street” reaction video showing DC residents having far more sympathy with ineffective teachers than the students in the schools.

Would You Want These People Making Ed Policy?

September 19, 2010

American Legislative Exchange Council releases Report Card on American Education

September 1, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The American Legislative Exchange Council released the Report Card on American Education: Ranking State K-12 Performance, Progress and Reform today coauthored by yours truly, Andy LeFevre and Dan Lips. Follow the link and check out our rankings of state NAEP performance based on the overall math and reading scores and gains of general education low-income children, and our “poll of polls” grades for K-12 policy in each state.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush penned the foreward. After losing a bet Stanford Political Scientist Terry Moe gave the book a very kind endorsement:

Everyone interested in education reform should read this book. Using a method that—by focusing on the achievement of low-income children—allows for apples-to-apples comparisons across the states, the authors present a treasure trove of eye-opening performance data and arrive at a ranking of state performance that reveals both surprising success and shocking failure. The book is well worth reading for the data alone. But it also offers a good deal more, from research summaries to methodological clarifications to model legislation—and concludes with an insightful discussion of the high-powered reforms that have helped some states out-perform others, and that offer the nation a path to improvement. I should add, finally—and with genuine admiration—that the book is beautifully written and a pleasure to read: something I can rarely say about a data analysis.

JPGB readers will of course realize that this is quite a tribute to Andy and Dan, given your painfully intimate knowledge of my garbled writing. Thanks also to Jeff Reed and Dave Myslinski from ALEC (Jeff is now rocking and rolling at the Foundation for Educational Choice), Jay and my Goldwater Institute comrades.

Check it out and let me know what you think. Be nice though: today is my birthday, which makes me even more emotionally volatile than usual.

UPDATE: Here is a link to the PDF.

Sneak Preview: Report Card on American Education

August 30, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Later this week the American Legislative Exchange Council will release Report Card on American Education: Ranking State K-12 Performance, Progress and Reform written by yours truly, Dan Lips and Andy LeFevre.

As suggested by the title, we grade each state by their academic performance, their academic gains and their K-12 reform policies. On the later, we use a “poll of polls” technique and average the grades assigned for particular policy areas on academic standards, teacher quality, charter school laws, private choice, digital education etc.

Sneak peak: a B+ was the highest grade.

On the performance and progress, we utilize NAEP with an eye to maximizing comparability  between states. After all, no one can be shocked that Connecticut has higher NAEP scores than Mississippi, given the huge disparities in income between the two states.

We therefore judge each state based on the scores of free and reduced lunch eligible general education students on all four main NAEP exams: 4th grade reading and math, 8th grade reading and math. We use the period for which all 50 states and the District of Columbia have participated in NAEP (2003-2009). Using free or reduced lunch eligibility keeps the income range of students under a known limit, whereas non-free and reduced lunch kids can vary in income from still relatively hardscrabble to billionaires.

We made no effort to control for race or ethnicity despite the well-known existence of racial achievement gaps. This is because we believe that such gaps can in fact be closed. We believe that the gaps exist due to policy and cultural factors, all of which can be changed. Schools in particular are in the business (or should be) of promoting a strong academic culture focused on learning-aka controlling the culture of the school.

You’ve never heard of a racial combat effectiveness gap in the United States Marines Corps because it doesn’t exist. The fact that the Marines are a well-led organization with a strong culture has a great deal to do with that, as does the fact that every Marine is a part of the Corps by choice.

In any case, we do not claim that our NAEP rankings provide perfect comparability  just enormously better comparability  than looking at raw NAEP scores.

So you are dying to know whether your state rocked or sucked wind in the rankings. Calm down- pace yourself!

All will be revealed later in the week.

Even More Bloat!

August 23, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Yours truly weighs in on the bloat fest!

Burke and Ladner Sing the real “Empire State of Mind” Duet on NRO

June 9, 2010

Now you’re in New York FLOR-I-DA!  Our minority children outscore your WHOLE STATE! There’s nothing we can’t do! 

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke and I hit National Review Online on Florida’s K-12 success in raising minority academic achievement.

In California, Meg Whitman won the Republican nomination for governor in overwhelming fashion on Tuesday. As you can see on her campaign site, Whitman wants to bring Florida reforms to California, which desperately needs them. California is a gigantic state that scores like an urban school district on NAEP. Without large improvements in California, it is unlikely that we will see the United States even begin to close the academic gap with European and Asian nations.

Public Education and its Enemies

October 29, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

In the final scene of Shakespeare’s Henry V, the French sue for peace after Henry’s triumph at Agincourt. While the French king is away negotiating the final terms, Henry uses the opportunity to woo the King’s daughter Katherine to become his Queen.

Katherine is cool to this idea, but slowly warms to the notion under the glare of Henry’s charm. Finally, she asks “May it be possible zat I should love zee enemy of France?”

Henry replies:

“No Kate, it is not possible. For in loving me, you shall love the friend of France. For I love France so much that I will not part with a village of it.”

I think of this line often when K-12 reactionaries try to play the “well, I support public education” card. This you see, is supposed to put a reformer on a defensive and get them to scramble to say that they support public education too!!!

Nice try, but for my part, I have this to say: don’t tell me how much you love public schools unless you are willing to do what it takes to make them work for kids.

Yesterday Marcus Winters released a study showing that charter schools in NYC improve public school performance, especially for disadvantaged children. The effect sizes were modest, but what more can you expect given that the state still has a cap for the number of charters? The cap should be removed, and private choice options created.

Research has firmly established that ineffective teachers severely harm the education of children. Who is the enemy of public education- those who want to preserve tenure at all costs, or those who want to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom?

Last year, I was at a conference in Arizona. A philanthropist spoke movingly about the need to raise Arizona academic standards to internationally competitive levels. An assistant Superintendent of a tony school district said “We can’t meet the standards we have now, the last thing we should do is raise them.”

Who is the enemy of public education- the philanthropist or the administrator?

Later in that same meeting, I made a presentation about Florida’s success in improving public education, including the curtailment of social promotion to compel literacy training. One of the educators in the audience replied “I don’t want to see 9 year olds rolling on the ground crying because they don’t get to advance with their grade.”

That, you see, would be inconveint to her. It would be much less messy to simply pass the child along illiterate until he or she drops out in the 8th grade.

Who is the enemy of public education- me or her?

The reactionaries cleverly try to equate pouring more money on this broken system as compassionate. Balderdash. It is the goals of public education that people should be committed to, not any particular delivery mechanism, nor the employment interests of the adults working in the all-to-often dysfunctional system. We’ve tried the pour money method for improving public schools, and it failed miserably.

Show me don’t tell me how much you love public schools, apologists. As your critics multiply across ideological lines, the time has come to put up or shut up. I love public schools so much that I am willing to put in the right incentives and policies to make them work for a far larger number of children.

How about you?

The Price of Things to Come: Free

September 24, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I am half way through Chris Andersen’s new book Free: The Future of a Radical Price and I can already recommend the book.

Andersen’s treatment of disruptive technologies and firms is simply fascinating. Craig’s List, for example, has from one perspective “destroyed” far more profits for newspapers than it creates for itself. The entire firm runs on a few dozen employees, but has played a large role in reducing a huge revenue stream for the entire American newspaper industry.

Craig’s List actually hasn’t destroyed profits, but in fact has redistributed them to the general public. Craig’s List provides a superior service to a want ad, and it is almost always free.

Likewise, Britannica and others used to make large profits going door to door selling $1,000 encyclopedia sets. Then Microsoft came out with a $99 dvd encyclopedia, and profits withered. Then Wikipedia came along and Microsoft abandoned their dvd project, and Britannica and company will be required to reinvent themselves if they are to survive.

Technology is driving all of these changes-exponential increases in computing power, storage capacity, are driving changes that are fundamentally disrupting several industries: music, newspapers, and perhaps banking.

The question I have half way through this book: who will become the Google of higher education?

Google has a core business of showing you online ads that is very, very profitable. Most of what they do, however, is throwing out products for free. Google has over 100 free software applications online- maps, Earth, documents, etc. and develops new ones all the time.

Highly successful American universities seem to have a core mission of educating students. This however is questionable at best. Some of these universities have endowments so large that if they simply followed the rules for non-profits and spent 5% of their endowment per year, they could eliminate tuition for their students entirely.

What these universities are really about, of course, is getting research grants and adding to their endowments. What if, however, one or more of them were to go down the road of truly seeking to educate the world by putting up entire degree programs online for free.

A Harvard, Princeton or Notre Dame is likely to always have more applicants than spaces, and in any case, these places could survive without students, not that they will ever need to do so. Why not put up entire rigorous degree programs online, and invite anyone and everyone in the world to complete them for free?

Concerned that it would lessen a regular degree? Pshaw-distinguish it from a regular degree, and require an exit exam, say the GRE, that indicates the student knows quite a bit. Random half-baked idea alert, but if a score on the GRE high enough to admit the student in the upper half of graduate programs were required, we’d know far more about the online student than the traditional ones.

Worried about quality? You should be, but don’t forget the recent U.S. Department of Education study showing that technology based learning is substantially more effective than the old fashioned way.

Imagine if students in Bangladesh could earn a Princeton math degree, or a theology degree from Notre Dame for free, or more accurately for the time, computer and internet cost. The marginal players of the American academy would squeal as they are forced to reinvent themselves from making buggy whips, but this is a small price to pay for bringing opportunity to the world.

The only question in my mind is how long it will be until an elite player has the necessary vision to defect from the comfortable cartel. Several universities have the means to do this, and could receive philanthropic help to do so. Attention Oxford and Cambridge: it wouldn’t require an American university to pull this off. A British university could put out a low-cost version of this, and unlike their American counterparts, they aren’t swimming in resources.

Mourning Constitutional- OK kids score even worse than AZ

September 17, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Regular JPGB readers will recall that the Goldwater Institute gave a version of the United States Citizenship Test to Arizona high school students, only to learn that they were profoundly ignorant regarding American government, history and geography. Only 3.5% of Arizona public school students got six or more questions correct, the passing threshold for immigrants.

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs wanted to know how Oklahoma high school students would fare on the exam- so we surveyed them and gave them precisely the same set of questions we asked Arizona students.

Perhaps I ought not to have been so hard on Arizona students. After all, they passed at a rate that was 25% higher than their peers in Oklahoma!

That’s right: the passing rate for Oklahoma high school students was 2.8%. They somehow underperformed Arizona’s already abysmally pathetic performance.

My favorite part of writing this paper was poking around in the Oklahoma state standards for civics. Here’s a quote:

Oklahoma schools teach social studies in Kindergarten through Grade 12. … However it is presented, social studies as a field of study incorporates many disciplines in an integrated fashion, and is designed to promote civic competence. Civic competence is the knowledge, skills, and attitudes required of students to be able to assume ‘the office of citizen,’ as Thomas Jefferson called it.

A social studies education encourages and enables each student to acquire a core of basic knowledge, an arsenal of useful skills, and a way of thinking drawn from many academic disciplines. Thus equipped, students are prepared to become informed, contributing, and participating citizens in this democratic republic, the United States of America.

That all sounds swell, except for the part where despite being taught social studies from K-12, Oklahoma high school students come out knowing about as much about American history and government as they know about Quantum Physics or ancient Sanskrit.

These kids wouldn’t do much worse if the pollster asked them questions in Sanskrit instead of English. The pollster would say “I am going to ask you some questions about American civics in Sanskrit. Answer as best you can.  Question 1: संस्कृता वाक् संस्कृता वाक् संस्कृता वाक् संस्कृता वाक् ?”

There is some small chance they would answer “George Washington” after all.

I have an empty metal coffee pot in my office marked “Sweden Civics Survey Fund.” Please drop by a give what you can afford. Once it gets to a couple of thousand bucks, I’ll retain the pollster to give this exact same survey on AMERICAN civics to high school students in Sweden.

They couldn’t do much worse than the kids in Arizona and Oklahoma. Sadly, I suspect they would do much better.

(Edited for Clarity)

Texas has nothing to learn from California except…

July 10, 2009

2809LD1(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Interesting article from the Economist on California vs. Texas: America’s future.

I’ve been an Economist reader for 20 years now, and their work is usually outstanding. They do however occassionally fall prey to an easy stereotype, and this article contains such a folly.

Read the article for yourself, but keep in mind that Texas has among the highest NAEP scores for Hispanic students in the nation (now edged out by Florida on 4th grade reading) and spends over $10,000 per child per year.

The only thing Texas has to learn from California is what not to do.


This has been a settled question on the only true field of battle for some time now.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,519 other followers